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  • Kelly Ewing

THE FEMALE BODY IN HORROR CINEMA AND VIDEO GAMES

In horror media, the depictions of femininity, its physical body and interior spaces is particularly interesting to me. Often, depictions of women and their bodies in such media are garishly horrific, visceral and threatening. Woman, or anything feminine, is presented as monstrous and posing an immediate threat. In Barbara Creed’s ‘The Monstrous Feminine’, she argues ‘the prototype of all definitions of the monstrous is the female reproductive body’, therefore, when women are considered monstrous and villainous, it is often in influence of her maternal function and child bearing genitalia. Creed refers to this monstrous woman as ‘female monster’ or ‘monstrous feminine’. Creed’s theory of the monstrous feminine finds its foundations in Freudian theory, yet she argues that woman is complete whilst lacking the phallus, which paired with her reproductive functions is what ultimately denotes her as horrific and monstrous. Creed’s ‘monstrous feminine’, is underpinned by Kristeva’s theory of abjection; “that which does not ‘respect borders, positions, rules’ . . . that which “disturbs identity, system, order”.


Whilst my work is not horrific, monstrous or visceral, it is important to remain aware of the general representation of the female body, both interior and exterior, in mass media- as I am exploring the same spaces and environments. This depiction of womanhood is also relevant to me when considering irish folklore and tales, which too portray female bodies as monstrous, dangerous and threatening, specifically the tales of the hag and fairy/ changeling abductions.



Overwhelmingly, when dealing with femininity in horror cinema, she is often depicted as victim. However, where she is not victimised rather villainised, the female is rendered horrific and monstrous, often by way of her bodily processes and behaviours. In William Friedkin’s ‘The Exorcist’, possessed child Regan MacNeil’s descent into demonic possession transforms her from an innocent, playful child, into a grotesque, abject bile spewing entity. Regan’s possession is reminiscent of infantile development; she is consistently enveloped in bodily fluids and waste, and appears to revel in it. The horrific physical changes Regan endures can be interpreted as the representation of social anxieties surrounding female menstruation and puberty; Regan transforms from a soft, plump, rosy child into a haggard monstrous representation of a typical woman during her menses, filthy; dripping liquids and bile.


Similarly, to the monstrous entity Regan MacNeil in ‘The Exorcist’, an interesting exploration of feminine interior bodily space is seen in the 1999 video game, ‘System Shock 2’. The eighth and final level to explore in ‘System Shock 2’ is ‘The Body of The Many’, which is set inside an alien organism, with internal organs and a digestive system. The level allows the player to explore this expansive interior environment, with the aim to destroy the brain of the alien itself and escape. The internal body the player explores belongs to ‘The Many’, a biological hive mind created by the games main antagonist, artificial intelligence entity ‘SHODAN’, and released into the world by male characters.


SHODAN is female, and her experimental creations ‘The Many’ evolved beyond her control, essentially becoming her infantile children. While obviously without sex, SHODAN has a distinctly feminine pitched voice, a female cybernetic face and is portrayed as a deranged mother. The body which the level explores is distinctly feminine, most obviously in that there are eggs littered in various locations across the environment. If the eggs are broken, large worms will emerge and attack the player. Alongside these eggs, there are numerous cyborg midwives, who seek to protect these large, flesh covered spherical pods. These eggs are birthed from a specific place within ‘The Many’s’ biomass, where they are created from consumed human corpses.


The environment is expansive in some areas, while narrow and tight in others. The walls are fleshy and reminiscent of a colon, with soft lumpy walls that undulate and pulse. The floor of the environment is much the same, in some areas there are pools of liquid underfoot. Littered around are biological membranes which the player must break, which strongly resemble vaginal openings. The sounds the body emits are squelching and off-putting. The physical environment and the game’s lore strongly indicate this horrific and visceral environment is female.


Alongside being portrayed as evil, deranged and malevolent as ‘SHODAN’ is, the body of ‘The Many’ is portrayed as a disgusting and dangerous female internal environment. Female bodily processes and spaces are rendered horrific- where a woman’s fertilised eggs are suddenly fleshy pods filled with worms made from human corpses, and her ovaries turned dangerous landscapes filled with spiders, corpses, aforementioned eggs and cybernetic antagonistic midwives. The female body and its processes are used in ‘System Shock 2’ to terrify and intimidate the player, presenting this biological space as inherently female renders it monstrous and horrific, something to be traversed and overcome, to complete the game.

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